SINGAPORE - At least 2,500 listings of tainted health products, or products making false or misleading health claims, on local e-commerce platforms have been removed.
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said on Thursday (March 19) that the products were removed after Internet-based enforcement action coordinated by Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, between March 3 and 10.
HSA has taken part in this global week of action for 13 consecutive years. Ninety countries took part this year.
Over the week, HSA intensified online surveillance to detect and disrupt the sale of illegal health products, the authority said.
About half of the listings taken down were for products falsely claiming or misleading buyers into thinking the products could prevent or treat Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
These included health supplements, herbs, traditional medicines, and test kits which claimed to "strengthen the immune system against the coronavirus" or "prevent and cure coronavirus" or detect the virus in under 10 minutes, HSA said.
HSA clarified that there is no evidence these products can prevent, treat, or test for Covid-19. Testing for the virus can be done only by clinical laboratories or medical professionals in clinics and hospitals to ensure proper accuracy and diagnosis.
Aside from coronavirus-related listings, more than 32 per cent of the products taken down were adulterated lifestyle products such as weight loss pills, sexual enhancement medicines and cosmetic products, some of which contained potent medicinal ingredients.
Many of these sellers disguised their products as common household items such as soaps and shampoos when they were, in fact, illegal medicinal products and creams to evade the authorities and the e-commerce platform administrators.
Between Jan 1 and March 10, more than 1,100 of these sellers were issued warnings.
The investigations also found that some sellers were selling leftover or unused prescribed health products such as steroid creams, antibiotic creams and painkillers.
Many of these were listed by first-time sellers who claimed to be ignorant of the fact that prescription medicines can be provided only by doctors, and selling prescription medicines is an offence under the Health Products Act.
HSA also advised the public to be cautious when buying health products online, especially if they are cheaper, since the lower prices may be due to unsafe and inferior ingredients, manufacturing methods and storage conditions.
Buyers should also be wary of products that claim to have been developed based on scientific studies, as these often cannot be verified.
As there is no evidence that any health supplement, Chinese medicine, traditional medicine, herbs or "clip-on" products, that are clipped onto clothing, can boost the immune system to prevent, protect against or treat Covid-19, these claims are misleading.
There is also no evidence that test kits bought online can detect the novel coronavirus accurately within minutes.
Consumers who use these test kits may end up with a false sense of security and delay seeking treatment.
Consumers who buy health products online should do so only from websites with an established retail presence in Singapore.
"HSA takes a serious view against those engaged in the sale and supply of health products that are adulterated or carry misleading claims, and will take strong enforcement action against such persons," the authority said.
Those found guilty of supplying such health products may be jailed for up to three years, fined up to $100,000, or both.
Members of the public who come across illegal, counterfeit or other suspicious health products are encouraged to contact HSA on 6866-3485 or through e-mail.